Volunteers create their own curriculum

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Cordell’s All-Stars midweek material created with community in mind

by Myra Holmes

 

The midweek children’s program at Bible MB Church, Cordell, Okla., was no longer the right fit for Bible MB. So six years ago, the volunteer children’s ministry team fashioned their own curriculm to fit their congregation and their community. The result isn’t flashy. It doesn’t claim a designer label or cutting-edge accessories. But for this small congregation, it fits beautifully.

For as long as anyone could remember, Bible MB had used the Awana children’s curriculum. Awana is a popular program among USMB congregations, often commended for its emphasis on Bible memorization. And for many, many years, it fit Bible MB perfectly.

Over time, however, the situation changed. At first, Bible MB was the only church in town to offer Awana. When another community church started offering an Awana program as well, some children would attend both programs, memorizing the same verses for double credit. Volunteers felt the focus turn increasingly toward the rewards, not an understanding of the Scriptures.

At the same time, they noticed holes where needs weren’t being met. Cordell is a small community of about 3,000 with a significant population of people drawn by job opportunities in the oil industry. More and more of the children coming to the Wednesday night program were unchurched.

 

Looking for a better fit

“We realized we had children who were coming from families where they didn’t hear about God, they didn’t know the Bible stories, they don’t go to Sunday school,” says children’s ministry leader Joyce Creed. “We needed a program where we could actually teach them the Bible and not just require that they memorize verses.”

Added to the growing list of concerns was a volunteer staff that was stretched thin. Bible MB is a small congregation of about 50 on a typical Sunday morning; many attendees are advancing in years. While the volunteers were dedicated, there simply weren’t enough of them to provide meaningful interactions with the roughly 50 kids attending.

Then Awana changed up the curriculum to require new T-shirts, workbooks and awards. Since many of the children who attended Wednesday nights at Bible MB couldn’t afford to pay for their materials, the church shouldered that cost, and the transition felt like a significant expense for a small church.

 

Time to do their own thing

Given this list of concerns and one “particularly trying year,” the Wednesday night volunteers met together to explore new options. As they brainstormed what they wanted in a midweek program and what would fit the needs of the kids they longed to reach, they made a bold move: “We decided we could do our own,” says Mary Beth Keil, co-director of the mid-week program.

They call their program All-Stars, an acronym for: Seek God’s face, Turn from evil, Accept salvation through Christ, Remember God’s words and Shine like stars.

At the top of their wish list was more emphasis on Bible stories so that kids would have context for the verses they memorize and more opportunity to discuss what they are learning. So group time in the Bible is a top priority. Each year, Creed prayerfully develops a theme, eight units based on character traits and weekly Bible stories to illustrate the given character trait.

After hearing the Bible lesson as a large group, children break into small groups according to age and gender. In these smaller groups, adult volunteers can go beyond listening to children quote verses to discussing the Bible story and engaging with the children’s questions.

Bible memorization in All-Stars incorporates verses that tie in with the theme and are chosen to give the children a more cohesive understanding of Scripture. Participants still get rewards for memorizing verses, but the rewards are smaller to take the emphasis off of the prize. Bible MB volunteers created a star-shaped badge based on their All-Stars theme, and children earn small pins to attach to the badge when they memorize a verse. The Internet provides resources to custom-make the badge and to order each year’s pins.

 

Adding missions, customizing lessons

A big change is the addition of a mission project. Many of the children come from less-privileged families who are targeted with charity programs and therefore are used to getting, not giving. Creed says, “We thought it’s so much more important to teach them to give than to teach them to save up everything so they can get the best gift.”

The first year they introduced a mission project—providing shoes for impoverished school children in the Philippines—Creed doubted these poorer children would give. But the children eagerly embraced the opportunity, bringing their pennies and birthday money and providing over 50 pairs of shoes that year.

One of the biggest advantages of creating their own curriculum is the ability to customize it to meet specific needs. This year’s theme—family—is a perfect example of that. Volunteers noticed that many of the children coming on Wednesday nights come from difficult family situations. So this year, All-Stars will focus on family, with units such as, “I have a Father who loves me,” “I have a heritage,” and “I have a church family.” The hope is that children will understand that, no matter their home situation, the Bible MB congregation will support them and their Heavenly Father will love them unconditionally.

“We just want them to know that love,” Keil says.

 

Emphasizing quality over quantity

The first year Bible MB implemented these changes, attendance dropped dramatically, from about 50 at the peak of the Awana years to about 15. That was worrisome to volunteers, but they held fast to their decision to emphasize more comprehensive Bible teaching.

“It’s better to reach fewer in number but be able to disciple better,” Creed says. 

By the end of that first year, about 20 kids were coming regularly. Volunteers evaluated, discussed and decided to continue with their tailor-made curriculum. And the effort has paid off. This year’s mid-week program started in September with 38 children. “To us, that’s pretty good growth,” co-director Keil says.

Creed and Keil emphasize that any congregation could similarly create their own curriculum. The key is a group of committed volunteers who are willing to bring ideas. “We just brainstormed,” Keil says. “Any church could do this.”

For more details about All-Stars or tips on how to customize a curriculum, please contact Joyce Creed or Mary Beth Keil through the Bible MB Church office, 580-832-3287 or cordellmb@juno.com

Photo: Writing your own curriculum lets you be flexible, says Joyce Creed. So this year kids will play cooperative rather than competitive games and small group time will allow for in-depth discussion and opportunities to develop relationships. Photo credit: Bible MB Church

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